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True Fasting

Recently I took time to study what true fasting entails. When I read the potent words in Isaiah 58 I was startled by what I discovered about the features of a true fast. I thought back to the last time I took part in a fast and wondered  if it had been  a true fast  because my experience was not reflective of the outcome of a true fast.

In Isaiah 58: 3-5, God has three concerns with the house of Jacob when they fast. The first concern is that they serve their own interests during their fast. Regarding the second concern of oppressing their workers, there is a call here to reflect on their unjust treatment of others. The third point of concern is the external display of humility as portrayed in the donning of sack cloths. All three concerns highlight the need to take the focus away from self and to refocus on the needs of others.

Having rejected their fasting attitudes, the Lord enunciates his expected fast:
“… loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free…. share food with the hungry; provide shelter for the homeless and cloths for the naked.” (58:6,7)

Is this something we do when we fast? Perhaps many of us have a limited view to fasting in that we believe the only features in fasting are praying, singing and abstinence from food or favourite TV programmes. But as we explore the text, we notice that the emphasis is not on abstinence from but in the providing for others who are less fortunate.  When we employ this understanding, then we can also expect the result of a true fast, which is that the Lord will answer when we call.
Interestingly, what Jesus presents as the way of life of those who are called to inherit the kingdom (Matt 25.31-46) mirrors the true fast as identified in Isaiah 58. These include feeding the hungry and thirsty; welcoming strangers; providing clothes for the naked and visiting those in prison.

Fasting is an attitude of love. “…. Let us not love in words or speech, but in truth and action.” 1 John 3:18. I challenge us all to take part in a true fast.